Tedla Woldeyohannes (Ph.D.)
The title of Andrew DeCort’s essay—”Christian Nationalism is Tearing Ethiopia Apart”1– – is one main reason why I decided to read it to see if the writer provides any good reason to support an outlandish claim the title communicates. Anyone who is a keen observer of the current situation in Ethiopia could tell that there is no way Andrew can show, based on facts, that “Christian nationalism is tearing Ethiopia apart” as a country. Anyone who is familiar with the situation in Ethiopia can replace “Christian nationalism” with “extreme ethno-nationalism” and can provide conclusive evidence to the support the claim that extreme ethno-nationalism is tearing Ethiopia apart.
Now one key question needs an answer, that is: Why did Andrew decide to give the impression to his readers that “Christian nationalism” is the root cause for the potential demise of Ethiopia? I will leave for Andrew to answer this question, which I very much doubt he will. Why do I say this? Andrew has a habit of writing sensational articles or often Facebook posts and avoids critical responses to his writings. He wants to create an appearance of responding to his critics, on Facebook, by repeating his own assertions often and claiming that his critics misunderstood him, or whatever he thinks could absolve him from a real engagement. He is famous for un-tagging himself from Facebook posts when he is expected to respond to criticisms. He has done that to me several times and as a result I’ve stopped tagging him.
In a more serious manner, here is one other evasion of engagement by Andrew from my experience. In December 2019, I wrote a critical essay I titled, “A Portrait of Jawar Mohammed by Andrew DeCort”2, which I concluded by saying this: “There are a lot of things Andrew needs to explain to his readers of the interview he conducted with Jawar. I do not know whether he will do that or not.” He never responded to my challenges except trying to engage me, in an evasive manner. That was on Facebook. I am writing this piece to show how Andrew used a title for an article, which I also take to be the heart of his message, which he intended his readers to believe to be the case about Ethiopia. I argue below that Andrew has not provided any good reason for anyone to believe that Christian nationalism is tearing Ethiopia apart. His more subtle goal in writing his article is this: He wanted to DIVERT the attention of the international community note where he has published his essay– from the real cause for the potential demise of Ethiopia, which is the logical outworking of ethnic federalism by its active and destructive players, extreme ethno-nationalists. No one who is even superficially informed about Ethiopian politics needs evidence in this essay about what extreme ethno-nationalism has done and is doing to Ethiopia.
Here is one more subtle point Andrew aimed to accomplish in his article: Oromo nationalists and those who are staunch supporters of the Tigrayan People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) have made, for decades, fabricated narratives about the Amhara people as oppressors and the Oromo people and the Tigrayan people, among others, as the oppressed. The deadly narrative against the Amhara people is taking its toll, to a new level, as I write this piece with the massacre of over 300 innocent Amharas in the Western Oromia region. This is just the latest in the series of massacres of unarmed, innocent Amharas, especially in the last four years since the current prime minister has assumed power. The current Ethiopian prime minister is an Oromo himself and he has been implementing what extreme Oromo nationalists have been demanding for years. I’ve written several articles on this in 2016. See my articles.3In October 2020, I’ve written a critical essay on Prof. Andreas Eshete, a fellow Ethiopian philosopher, on his role in the drafting of the Ethiopian constitution, which is the foundational document for ethnic federalism.4
I submit that it is too obvious for any observer of Ethiopian politics, especially in the last four years, to miss the fact that ethnic conflicts, and often ethnic-cleansings committed against, especially, the Amhara people have one key cause, that is, the hate-filled false narratives about the Amharas as the oppressors and the others, mainly, the Oromos as the victims. It is also crucial to note what has happened during the recent civil war, for lack of a better term, in northern Ethiopia—the Amhara region, in Tigray, and in Afar. How can anyone ignore, as Andrew did in his essay, the role of ethnic federalism as the most prominent cause in shaping the views of those in the power struggle behind the most recent deadly war in northern Ethiopia? Was the main reason for this war “Christian nationalism” in even remote sense? Only Andrew would believe this to be the case!
Andrew writes about the current prime minister of Ethiopia, “In an early speech, Abiy announced himself as Ethiopia’s “seventh king,” a reference to his Orthodox mother’s prophecy over him as a child. This self-presentation powerfully evoked the ancient history of Ethiopia’s Christian imperialism and the promise of Ethiopia’s restored greatness”. How can any reasonable person take seriously what Abiy said about what his mother told him that he would be the 7th Ethiopian king, which plays a key tole in Andrew’s case for “Christian nationalism”? The era of monarchy in Ethiopia had come to an end in 1974, about which Andrew also writes. Is there any credible evidence that shows those who long to see the time of emperors restored in Ethiopia in the sense that they are playing an active political role in current Ethiopia? Where is the evidence Andrew provided for us about his claim that connects the “imperial Ethiopia” (gone in 1974) to “Christian nationalism” when the latter is used as the justification for the existence of the former, which no longer exists? What a blatant contradiction!
Consider what Andrew says about Daniel Kibret, who is an adviser to the prime minister and a member of the parliament. Daniel is an Ethiopian Orthodox Christian. Andrew writes, “Abiy started publicly elevating extremist voices in the Orthodox Church like Daniel Kibret, a prominent Orthodox scholar behind Mahibere Kidusan or the “communion of saints.” This powerful group is a right-ring Orthodox youth movement with the mission, in part, of restoring the Orthodox Church’s historic hegemony.” Ethiopia is on the verge of collapse due to the politics of extreme ethno-nationalists, especially extreme Oromo ethno-nationalists who are committing ethnic cleansing of the Amharas in the Oromia region. How can anyone who has a little desire for truth and justice talk about Daniel Kibret’s role in relation to the prime minister when those who have been slaughtered time and again are ethnic Amharas about which Daniel Kibret has not done anything to stop their senseless deaths? Is Daniel Kibret working to “restore” the dead imperial Ethiopia ruled by Orthodox Christians while witnessing the massacre of his own people, the Amharas, most of whom are Orthodox Christians? What kind of logic is Andrew using to support his warped claim that “Christian nationalism is tearing Ethiopia apart? According to Andrew’s logic, is Daniel Kibret going to preside over a non-existent country since in his view Ethiopia is being torn apart? There is no basis in reality which Andrew can use to support his claim, which is a deliberate distortion of the reality of the suffering innocent people in Ethiopia in the name of someone who cares about all Ethiopians.
Andrew tried to make a point about his claim that “Christian nationalism is tearing Ethiopia apart” by talking about the role of Abiy Ahmed in the formation of the Ethiopian Evangelical Council (EEC). Did Abiy play a role in the coming into existence of the ECC and has he used it for his political cause? Absolutely. I’ve talked about this in videos and have been a vocal critic of Abiy’s use of Ethiopian Evangelicals by way of ECC or otherwise. But what does this show? Christian nationalism that is bent on restoring imperial Ethiopia? How? Note that Ethiopian Evangelicals are Ethiopians, obviously, and they have interest in the history of their country. I am one of them. But to conflate the role “Christianity” has played in Ethiopian history as one and the same for Ethiopian Orthodox Christians and Evangelical Christians in Ethiopia is at best naïve and at worst disingenuous.
Here is what Andrew says that he thinks could support his claim about “Christian nationalism”: “Abiy’s Christian expansionism energized “dominionist” and “seven mountain” theology in Ethiopia. This political theology promotes the idea that if Christians can control key sectors like politics, business, and culture, then society can be “captured for Christ.” This is the Pentecostal parallel to Orthodox imperialism stretching back to Ezana.” Think about his claim, a “Pentecostal parallel to Orthodox imperialism stretching back to Ezana.” I submit that this claim is Andrew’s *stretching his reasons* to support his-out-of-touch-with-reality-claim about “Christian nationalism.” Here are some reasons why I said the above:
Ethiopian evangelicals, in general, have been the least politically engaged group in Ethiopia before Abiy came to power. Their theology was other-worldly for the most part in the sense that their main focus was on the salvation of their souls with an eye on eternal life. Their true world is the other world—life after this life. This view has been supported by the secular
spiritual divide for Ethiopian evangelicals, which has been their hallmark until Abiy Ahmed assumed power. I’m not saying for most Ethiopian evangelicals their theology has changed that much. Those who threw themselves into the political arena are mostly driven by personal benefits they could get by association with the first evangelical prime minister in their lifetime. Andrew has said as much about the benefits some evangelicals are getting in virtue of their connection to the prime minister.
Now where does Andrew go wrong then? How can “Christian nationalism” as Andrew claims be anywhere in explaining what is going on with Ethiopian evangelicals which, as he claims, “parallels to Orthodox imperialism stretching back to Ezana”? Nowhere. We are talking about opportunistic evangelical Ethiopians who have no overarching desire to “restore” the greatness of imperial Ethiopia. For any Ethiopian evangelical mind such a claim makes zero sense. Note this: Ethiopian evangelicals have a complex relationship with the Ethiopian Orthodox church. This is a fact which cannot be simplified to create a false and misguided Christian nationalist narrative which has no basis in reality. Probably most Ethiopian evangelicals have an Orthodox Christian background. For the record: I’m an evangelical Christian but I was born to an Ethiopia Orthodox Christian priest. Embracing evangelical Christian faith involves a way of thinking about the history of Ethiopia differently. For most evangelicals, Ethiopia was not a “Christian nation” as most Ethiopian Orthodox Christians believe. I do not need to get into a complex relationship between these two families of the Christian faith when even superficially showing the complexity is sufficient to refute how simplistic Andrew’s claim is about “Christian nationalism” as a threat to Ethiopia.
One more thing to add: The Ethiopia now in reality is a deeply fractured nation due to ethnic federalism that has nearly decimated the deep and long-standing relationships among ethnic groups that compose a country called Ethiopia. Even if we grant for the sake of argument, which in reality is false, that Orthodox Christians are trying to restore the imperial Ethiopia—again this has no basis in reality—how can anyone miss the primacy of ethnic identity in the current Ethiopia so much so that it is ethnic identity that plays a more active role dividing people in Ethiopia than anything else? Have we not seen the massacres of Orthodox Amharas in the Oromia region by extreme Oromo nationalists? See my article mentioned above for more on this.5 How can this be a way of reasoning to the conclusion that Christian nationalism by the Orthodox Christians is a threat to the existence of Ethiopia? It is because of their ethnic identity that the Amharas have been slaughtered again and again in the Oromia region. Is this about religious nationalism of any sort let alone Christian nationalism as Andrew wants his readers to believe? The answer is too obvious to need stating it.
Given, again, the reality of ethnic federalism and how people are divided along linguistic and ethnic lines in Ethiopia in the last 28 years, how is “Christian nationalism”, whatever that means, a way of restoring the imperial Ethiopia? Is it even imaginable to restore “the imperial Ethiopia” given the reality of, once again, ethnic federalism? Andrew must be talking about “Ethiopia” the rest of us are no longer familiar with! I reiterate here what I’ve said above: Andrew’s message in his essay is a deliberate DIVERSION from what is happening in Ethiopia to a *cause* for Ethiopia’s problems that exists in Andrew’s imagination and those whose agenda has become his agenda—extreme Oromo nationalists. One does not need to come out and say I support extreme Oromo nationalists. Who needs such a confession when the evidence speaks for itself?
Finally, some things to add for the record: For anyone who might suspect that I’m an Amhara because I expressed my deep concern about what the Amhara people have been going through, the truth is that I am not an Amhara. I’m from the south, from Wolaita. I reject the false narrative that Amharas were the oppressors, which is used for political mobilization by Oromo nationalists and the TPLF. Andrew wants me, from the south, to believe that I was oppressed by the Amharas or the non-existing “imperial Ethiopia with its Orthodox hegemony.” How convenient! Just for the record, I’m partly an Oromo as well. But ethnic identity plays the least role in my life.
I do not argue here, but my view is that ethnic federalism is the most ill-conceived solution to Ethiopia’s problems, whatever the problems were when ethnic federalism was introduced as a solution. See my article on Prof. Andreas Eshete for my critical view on Prof. Andreas’s role in supporting ethnic federalism. As an evangelical Christian, I have never shied away from being a consistently critical voice when the current prime minister has used and misused his religious affiliation for his political purpose. As someone from Wolaita, I did write an open letter to the former Ethiopian prime minister, Hailemariam Desalegn, who is from Wolaita, to resign.6 Neither my religious affiliation, nor my ethnic identity play any role in my commitment to truth and justice. I’m against human rights violations of any and all Ethiopians. I do not relate to any Ethiopian based on their ethnic identities. I try to treat everyone as fellow human beings and fellow Ethiopians, however they think about their identity. See my article on my view about Ethiopian national identity.7I added these last two paragraphs to dispel any potential myth about who I am or what motivated me to write this essay. I decided to write this essay because the claims Andrew made are out-of-touch-with-reality and hence such a view would cause harm. My goal is to show my readers the errors in Andrew’s reasoning and his main claim that “Christian nationalism is tearing Ethiopia apart” is blatantly false. What is tearing Ethiopia apart is profound hate that has found justification in ethnic federalism.
It is important to note this: I know Andrew personally and have defended him in public for his genuine love for Ethiopia. Following all available evidence about his thoughts and activities involving Ethiopia, at this moment, I think of him as another “Abiy Ahmed” who tells Ethiopians how much he loves Ethiopia while working diligently to see the Ethiopia we know to cease to exist. In the name of “love your neighbor” project, he has convinced many Ethiopians that he is working to promote neighbor-love among all Ethiopians. That is just not true. His deliberate distortion of what is happening in Ethiopia as “Christian nationalism” when this is not true is a case in point. Where there is no truth, there is no true love. He might still claim that he loves Ethiopia, but the evidence does not show that he actually loves Ethiopia. He thinks he loves Ethiopia, but he does things that will bring about the cessation of Ethiopia as we know it. A moment’s self-reflection can help here.
Abiy Ahmed told millions about his love for Ethiopia from day one when he assumed power. I never believed him since he never made a commitment to bring about a fundamental change in Ethiopia by addressing the ticking-bomb, otherwise known as ethnic federalism. Now anyone can see where Abiy’s Ethiopia is under his watch. The final goal for Andrew and Abiy is the same—to see the Ethiopia we know cease to exist. Note this: Andrew following his mentors from extreme Oromo ethno-nationalists calls Ethiopia that should cease to exist—imperial Ethiopia. Imperial Ethiopia ceased to exist in 1974, never to return! But Abiy would not say anything in those terms because he knows what that means for his political power. In order to retain his power with the support of millions of Ethiopians, he tells them again and again a prosperous Ethiopia is in the making when thousands and thousands of its citizens live in a slaughter-house and have perished under his watch.
What makes Andrew another “Abiy” is this: Both work to realize the agenda of Oromo nationalists—to see Ethiopia cease to exist, but in their words they tell us the beauty of Ethiopia when Ethiopia is being mutilated in the hands of extreme Oromo nationalists. Oromo nationalists, activists and some politicians are critical, in public, of Abiy for not accelerating the demise of Ethiopia while he still has power. Andrew’s criticism of Abiy is one and the same but his approach is more subtle. My article is intended to expose that subtle but blatantly misguided project in the name of political theology and “neighbor-love.” The political theology that informs Andrew’s project is confused and what he tells us that he promotes “neighbor-love” is just a subtle cover up for his agenda—to liberate Ethiopians from imperial Ethiopia! How convenient! I recommend to Andrew to make an effort in Chicago where real neighbor-love for blacks and whites is so badly needed at least to slightly reduce the non-stop and senseless violence and death in his own neighborhood!
1Foreign Policy magazine June 18, 2022.
3https://mehalarada.wordpress.com/2016/10/07/the-oromo-national-charter-and-the-future-of-ethiopia-a-plea for-clarity-tedla-wyohannes-ph-d/ and https://borkena.com/2016/11/29/ethiopia-what-is-the-ultimate-goal-of the-oromo-movement/ and https://borkena.com/2016/12/14/who-is-seeking-a-referendum-the-oromo-people or-oromo-elites-tedla-woldeyohannes-phd/
To Publish Article On borkena, please send submission to email@example.com for consideration.
Telegram Channel : t.me/borkena
Join the conversation. Follow us on twitter @zborkena to get the latest Ethiopian news updates regularly. Like borkena on facebook as well. To share information or send a submission, use firstname.lastname@example.org